Online Exhibits


The Railroad Comes Through

Transportation played a major role in the growth of the apple industry. At first few apples were grown for market because Northwest Arkansas didn’t have a railroad line or major navigable river. Apples had to be hauled by wagon great distances before they could be shipped. With the coming of the railroad in the 1880s, growers began planting apple trees by the thousands.

Not only did the railroad ship apples, it bought huge tracts of land, promoting the acreage in brochures with such titles as “Fruit Farming Along the Frisco.” While every county in Northwest Arkansas grew and shipped apples, Benton and Washington Counties were the major players. Arkansas apples won top prizes at expositions from the 1870s to the 1910s.

Scientific Orcharding

“…acres of [apple trees] in such long rows one can not see the end of them, just long streaks of vivid red and green. ...They will surely bring to the farmers a mint of money. You remember our mother used to say to us girls… ‘dollars don’t grow on every bush, my dear.’ But dollars do grow on every apple tree in this country.”

Martha A. Warren, September 1, 1907
(quoted by Erwin Funk, Rogers Daily News,
July 1, 1950)

With orcharding becoming a big business, growers sought ways to increase their crop yield. As a 1908 Springdale News article saw it, the “era of scientific orcharding” had begun. National and state agricultural agencies set up research and experimental stations to test new practices, teach, and spread practical information to farmers. At the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, researchers began studying and improving techniques for grafting, pruning, and spraying.

Apples were so important in Northwest Arkansas that in 1906, with the help of Senator James Berry of Bentonville and the state horticultural society, a first-class U.S. Weather Bureau opened on the Bentonville square. Not only did it offer daily forecasts, it sent notices to fruit farmers regarding when to spray their trees for insects and disease. This intensive planting of orchards and attention to scientific growing methods paid off. Bumper crops of apples were reported year after year. Accounts vary but in 1919 the total apple crop in Benton County was valued at almost $5.5 million. There were over 3,100 railroad cars of fresh apples, 250 cars of dried apples, and 618 cars of apples for vinegar. About 90,000 bushels of apples went to the canning factories.

New Business Develops

Apples grown by Dave Eicher, Springdale, 1900s-1910s.
Sydney D. Aaron, photographer/Dr. Roy C. Rom Collection

With the growth of the apple industry came a number of specialty businesses. Apple trees were propagated and grown at area nurseries. Barrels made from locally grown timber were used to ship high-grade fruit when it was green (not fully ripened) and better able to resist bruising. Ice from ice plants helped cool down refrigerated railroad cars. Cold storage plants overwintered apples before shipping them out in the spring.

Medium-grade apples were sent to the canneries for canning or to the evaporators to be sliced and dried. Low-grade fruit was sold in bulk and turned into vinegar or alcohol at the distillery. The Kimmons, Walker & Co. evaporator in Springdale was said to have been the biggest plant in the area. In 1907 over 1,500 bushels of apples were processed daily. The women working at one of the company’s 18 peelers were paid from 75¢ to $1 a day, depending on their skill.

Wholesalers and fruit brokers bought fresh fruit from the growers or processed apple products, selling these items to distant markets. During the busy season thousands of men, women, and children were employed in the orchards picking apples and in the packing sheds, distilleries, vinegar plants, and evaporators. So many people benefitted from “King Apple” that in 1901 the apple blossom became the state flower.

To celebrate the crop that put Northwest Arkansas on the map, in the mid 1920s Rogers held spectacular Apple Blossom Festivals complete with pageants, orchard tours, and the crowning of the Apple Blossom queen. Many communities and organizations sent crepe paper blossom-covered parade floats filled with pretty girls. One year over 50,000 attendees enjoyed the show. The last festival was held in 1927. Several years of unexpected rainy, cold weather had put a damper on the proceedings. The shifting weather patterns didn’t help the apple trees, either.

Locally Developed Varieties

Wilson June—one of 1,000 trees found at the Earles Holt nursery after the Civil War and transplanted to the Lincoln area by Albert & A.J. Wilson; a sweet, yellow-skinned fruit with dark crimson stripes

Shannon Pippin—brought from Indiana in 1833; a yellow-skinned fruit with a faint blush, it had a sweet aroma and made for a good dessert apple; it wasn’t suitable for commercial growing because not many apples grew on the tree

Arkansas (aka Mammoth Black Twig)—propagated in 1869; the scion was cut from a tree grown from the seed of either the Black Twig or Limber Twig in the 1840s by John Crawford of Rhea’s Mill near Prairie Grove; exhibited at the New Orleans Exposition in 1884

Etris—discovered by Jack Etris near Gentry in the late 1800s; a tart, red-striped fruit which keeps well; reaches its full flavor in late November

Arkansas Black—conflicting origin; some say first fruited in 1879 on Mr. Braithwait’s farm near Bentonville; others say DeKalb Holt produced it near Lincoln; firm flesh harvested in late fall; excellent for overwintering; won first place at the 1900 International Exposition in Paris

Black Ben Davis (aka Reagan’s Red)— originated from a seedling found in 1883 by John Reagan on a waste pile near an apple evaporator on Alexander Black’s farm; gained acclaim at the International Exposition in Paris


The End, and the Revival, of the Apple Industry in the Ozarks

A Nursery Story: Parker Brothers Nursery Co., and John Parker and Son Nursery Co.

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